We rightly celebrate the electoral process across the region. But we must also be aware that where free elections have taken place, the Islamists have won. It happened in Tunisia first, where the Enhada party ("Renaissance") obtained 40% of the vote. It happened in Morocco, where the party Justice and Development won 1/3 of the seats and its leader, Abedlilah Benkirane, will be the new Prime Minister. And we saw it also in Egypt, where the first electoral round gave the Islamists, Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party, plus the radical salafists 60% of the vote, higher than expected.
It has been said that the winners are moderate Islamists, and it may be true. But if you a woman, a Christian or a Jew, in any of those countries, the line between moderates and radicals is a fine distinction to be made. Actually, in a country like Tunisia, with a relatively sophisticated society, the first law to be amended has to do with the right of women to divorce. In Libya, polygamy is going to be reintroduced, beauty parlors and discos has been assaulted in Tripoli, and everywhere sharia law will be inspiring new constitutional texts.
In sum, in a year we have passed from the great expectations and promises of the so called "Arab spring" to a new and less optimistic reality on the ground, now termed sarcastically "the Arab winter".
How and why did this happen? First of all, we in the West were naive about what can be accomplished in such a short time in societies that never experienced before a real parliamentary system and where modern, pro-liberal forces were tiny minorities, repressed for years, and with endemic weaknesses, totally unable to present a political challenge to dominant Islamist movements.
It is our grave mistake that for many years we neglected pro-Western groups in order to avoid any friction with the existing rulers. At the same time, motivated by our inclination to defend human rights, and in a openly contradictory approach, we helped Islamists leaders who are now taking power without showing any kind of thankfulness for what we did for them in the past. Without political asylum in the UK, Tunisian leader Rachid Ghadnouchi could have been buried alive in prison. The same goes for Kamal Helbawy, current leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo; or even worst, the Libyan rebel military commander, Abdul Hakim Belhad, a well-known jihadist who was one of the suspects involved in the Madrid train bombing of March 2004.
Second, our strategy has been totally contradictory. While we encouraged the ouster of Mubarak or Gaddafi, even by violent means, we greeted the Saudi invasion of Bahrain because we feared Iranian involvement in that kingdom more than we supported the realization of popular demands. We turned away when confronted with grave basic rights violations there. Not to speak about the open contradiction between our approach to Libya and Syria. In the first case we militarily intervened in order to prevent a massacre that could have happened, while in Syria we don't act even though we are witnessing a real and ongoing massacre.
Third, the West, as such, has dissipated in relation to the region. The weight of individual nations has exceeded by far the collective cooperation and willingness to act. The so-called Obama doctrine of "leading from behind" proved too detrimental for the effectiveness and decisiveness of NATO’s campaign against Gaddafi, prolonging a conflict that could have been concluded more quickly.